Gene Cotton

Maybe part of this project can be to finally put into words my thoughts and feelings about my favorite musical moments.

Here’s the story about one of them, my meeting with 1970s singer-songwriter Gene Cotton, as arranged by my friend Barbara Bailey Hutchison (a person, by the way, who deserves far better from me than I’ve ever been able to give.)

In 2006, I spent a week in Nashville with Hutchison as host. The idea was I’d do hours of interviews, and write her biography. I did some interviews, have some tapes and transcriptions. That’s as far as it’s gotten. It is a disappointment I hope to rectify at some point.

Here’s a narrative I wrote to friends at the time after returning.

To call the week unbelievable would do it a disservice.

Let me start at the end, because that’s the part that’s blowing my mind the most.

When I was first setting up these dates with Barbara for interviews, I was hoping to wrangle from her an introduction to her producer, Gene Cotton. (Remember “Before My Heart Finds Out” and “Like a Sunday in Salem”? That guy.)

Barbara surprised me before we came down by asking if I’d mind us having dinner with Gene and his wife. (She also surprised me by telling me two days before the meal that she’s a vegetarian, and she was going to cook Thai. Eep. Although I did get a lot of laughs Friday night by saying, “I don’t see any patties anywhere …”)

To my even greater surprise, I really liked what she served. (Except for rice. I’m just not a rice guy. I can choke it down and not complain, but if I were forced to live on it, I’d be in a lot of trouble.) And Marnie, Gene’s wife (a Minnesota native)  was amused to catch me and Gene surreptitiously battling for seconds and thirds of one of the dishes.

After dinner, we drifted toward the living room and started chatting. I expected some political debates. Barbara and I have been battling all week over what I was calling her “bullshit hippie ideals.” And she
told me Gene was further to the left than she was. But it was pretty relaxing.

Then Chris, Barbara’s husband, asked Gene to “play a few songs.”

Holy shit.

I wasn’t even sure he was going to do it. Then all of a sudden he’s playing songs he’s never recorded, and they were amazing. I told Gene how much I loved “Like a Sunday in Salem,” and HE PLAYED IT FOR ME. Amazing. We shamed Barbara into playing a couple of songs I hadn’t heard yet that are coming out on her new album. (I’ve heard about half the album before.)

I’m sitting 10 feet from Gene Cotton, and on the couch next to Barbara, and she’s harmonizing with him, and they’re both playing these amazing songs, and I’m wondering if I’m awake.

Then she hands me her guitar, and says, “Play us one of yours.”

Right.

I panicked, and half-faked my way through one, and they didn’t run out of the house screaming. But I’ll never have an audience that scary for the rest of my life, I suppose.

Someone wrote asking what song I played for them. (They actually knew parts of my songwriting ouvre,)

I responded:

“Lookin 19.” I couldn’t remember the first verse. (I haven’t played it for three years at least.)

(2014 interjection: “Lookin 19” is kind of a country rock ripoff. I loved the lyrics, which were about a guy having trouble in that his significant other was significantly younger. Its key chorus line was “She’s lookin 19, and I’m feeling my age,” which I thought was really good. Musically, I thought of it as a ripoff/mashup of “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and “I Feel Lucky.” No one else ever seemed to hear that, which indicated to me that I did a good job of my theft.)

And I was freaked out because Gene Cotton had his guitar in his lap, and he was watching my fingers and filling in lead lines around every phrase.

He nodded, which I took as approval, and Barbara said, “That’s really good!” I’m sure she was just being polite — that’s the kind of person she is — but that was really a nice thing to say.

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